HL Deb 29 October 1936 vol 102 cc468-86

LORD SNELL rose to ask whether His Majesty's Government will make a statement regarding the organisation of the production of aero-engines for the Royal Air Force, and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in asking the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper I do not of necessity press for a full or final statement to-day. It may indeed not be convenient for His Majesty's Government to make such a full and final statement; but whether that is so or not the Government will agree that the matter is one of recognised importance and of some public anxiety. They will also agree that, owing to the exigencies of time, adequate study of the White Paper which has been issued has not yet taken place. I therefore desire to ask whether the Government wish to make a full statement to-day or, alternatively, whether it is their intention to have the question considered at a later date. The Government will, of course understand that we on the Opposition Benches reserve to ourselves the right to raise this matter on another occasion should it appear to us advisable and necessary to do so after we have heard any statement that the Government may desire to make. I think that is all that I need say at this stage.


My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for the opportunity of making a short statement on this matter. The White Paper which has been issued sets out very fully the facts both as to the policy of His Majesty's Government and also as to the discussions which have taken place with my noble friend Lord Nuffield and his representatives. It will be seen from the White Paper that His Majesty's Government have decided to adopt a policy with which my noble friend is, unfortunately, not in agreement, and I regret very much that that should be the case. His Majesty's Government have, however, made their decision upon the considered advice of the experienced firms which are undertaking the work of constructing the engines that are required, and we believe that it will prove successful.

I have nothing to add to the White Paper except that I wish to say this. I regret sincerely that my noble friend should feel that I treated him with any lack of consideration. I was greatly pressed at the time he asked to sec me, and I hope he will believe that the last thing I ever intended was to be discourteous to him. I have Lord Nuffield's authority for saying that while he cannot agree with some of the opinions expressed he accepts the White Paper as a fair statement of the Government's point of view and of what has passed between himself and the Air Ministry, and that he does not propose to make any further statement on the subject of his part in the discussions. Although he is not able to co-operate in the air engine plan he holds himself ready to place his services at the disposal of the Government for other important work.


Hear, hear!


My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord who put this Question that it is very desirable that this House should have an early opportunity of discussing all aspects of Defence and of Defence policy. The Government have always expected that that probably would be the desire of the House. As regards the particular question of engines, the House I think will agree that the statement which the Government have made is a very full and detailed statement, but I quite appreciate that the noble Lord has not had very full time to consider it; and that, indeed, is only one section of the problems of defence. Therefore I readily undertake on behalf of the Government that if the noble Lord will arrange with the Leader of the House a convenient day on which a debate should be initiated, as early as he likes in the coming Session, and would arrange to put a Motion on the Paper under which all questions of Defence in all their aspects can be debated fully in your Lordships' House, the Government would very much welcome such an opportunity. I think that that would be for the general convenience of the House.


Hear, hear!


Did the noble Viscount intend to indicate that such a debate would be limited to one day?


Oh, no, most certainly not. When we had a debate on defence on a previous occasion I think it went on for three or four days. We should not propose to limit the debate in the least. There will be ample opportunity for as many days as the House desires, conveniently, to set apart to debate the whole matter fully. Certainly it would be quite impossible to limit it to one day, and the Government would wish to give as much time as the House required fully to discuss every aspect of the matter.


My Lords, my noble friends on this Bench are very satisfied with the last part of the noble Viscount's reply. Obviously your Lordships would wish to discuss general Defence matters in the very near future; we on this side of the House are very anxious that that should be done. With regard to the answer to my noble friend's Question, I understood from the noble Viscount, the Secretary of State for Air, that the noble Lord, Lord Nuffield, does not intend to intervene in the debate. I want to say this at once. As far as I can make out from the study of the White Paper which I have had time to make and from the very careful study I have made of the statement of Lord Nuffield, which was very fully reported in the newspapers, and of the statement made by the managing director of the Alvis Co., all the parties concerned, including Lord Nuffield and the Secretary of State and his advisers, were acting in the national interests to the best of their lights in the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

I do not lend myself to any of the rather florid attacks which have been made in certain quarters either upon one side or the other, but I must allow myself one very mild criticism of the noble Viscount. I was very surprised—because I worked with him for many years in another place when he held high office—and I think it was a little unfortunate, that he should have felt bound to reply in the way he did to the request of the noble Lord, Lord Nuffield, for an interview. I always thought that any Member of Parliament, a member of either House, had the right of access to a Minister. I should be very surprised, for example, if my Party were in power and my noble friend Lord Ponsonby held office as First Lord of the Admiralty, if when I desired to see him on matters concerning naval construction, he refused to see me. I should be rather hurt as well as surprised. I had many dealings with the noble Viscount when he was President of the Board of Trade and when I had the honour of representing a shipping constituency and had to worry him a good deal. He was most courteous. Therefore I was surprised on this occasion at the sending of what I think he will admit was a rather unfortunate letter.

That is the only personal criticism I would venture to offer, but I think we are bound to take note of another point. The trouble that has arisen is the same sort of trouble that has arisen in the past and that will arise in the future, and for the same reasons. Your Lordships will be aware that we had a good deal of trouble in the Admiralty on the same sort of subject. It is necessary, in what I may call times of slack demand for armaments, to have certain firms who are prepared to maintain the expensive plant needed for specialised production. In regard to naval construction we have had the same trouble arising from the necessity of helping certain firms to maintain their expensive plant for making armour plate or gun mountings, or whatever may be required. It is necessary to feed those firms in slack times, so that they may be ready to provide the necessary equipment in time of emergency. What that time comes it is easy to understand that a Ministry is reluctant to pass orders to new-comers, to outside firms. I can understand that the four recognised firms referred to in the White Paper might complain. They might say that they had kept plant going and that it was unfair to them that efficient industrialists, who had built up great organisations for the production of motor cars or whatever it may be, should come along and propose to enter into this new field of manufacture. There is a lot in that point of view and it gives rise to accusations about "rings," which I do not support, and to accusations of all sorts of improper relations between Ministries and armament firms, which I do not support either.

But there is that natural policy of maintaining these so-called list firms so that when they are needed they may be efficient and ready. Under that system you are bound to have this sort of trouble when, as at present, there is a heavy demand for aircraft and aircraft engines. You have on the one hand four or five established firms and on the other hand you have the Morris Company, which has been far-sighted and has made preparations to meet that demand, being refused support and encouragement. I do not think that is an unfair picture of what has happened. It is natural, and it is bound to happen under the present system. Up and down the country, I am informed, there is a good deal of friction in regard to other parts of the rearmament programme. To begin with there is competition for skilled workers. There is a shortage of skilled workers for certain purposes and firms take each other's skilled workers whenever they can. There is also, as your Lordships know, severe competition for steel, and still more competition for tool steel, high-speed steel. While, yon have this competition between firms and between the Admiralty, the War Office and the Air Ministry, you are bound to have a good deal of friction. Then, of course, there is trouble about profits and questions as to whether the contractors are "soaking the taxpayers," if I may use that expression.

Therefore, I think one lesson is perfectly plain and that is that the case for a separate Ministry of Supply has been strengthened. At the time when the new organisation was announced and my right honourable friend Sir Thomas Inskip was appointed Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, I ventured to suggest to your Lordships that it was putting too much of a burden on one man's shoulders. The colossal task, the really heroic task, of coordinating the strategy of the three Services is alone work for a very energetic and efficient man, without at the same time expecting him to co-ordinate supply. I submit that the first lesson we have to learn is that a separate Ministry of Supply is absolutely necessary to decide on priority with regard to raw materials and so on. I stand in a white sheet, in a sense, because a year ago I rather resisted the proposal that there should be a separate Ministry of Munitions as I thought that would create public alarm. Now the situation is such that I think the case for a separate Ministry is overwhelming.

That brings me to another point. Speaking for the Labour Party, I want to say that we are strengthened in our view that the supply of munitions should be a State monopoly. We are bound to have these troubles otherwise. If you can build warships, as you can, cheaply and efficiently in the Royal dockyards, if Woolwich Arsenal proved such a source of safety to the State at the outbreak of the Great War, then I submit that that system should be enlarged to cover the whole supply of munitions of war. That has been the policy of the Labour Party for many years past, and I am bound, on this occasion, to re-state it. There is one other point to which I want to refer. I have not had the opportunity of consulting my noble friends about this. Prom the statement of the noble Viscount, I am not quite sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Nuffield's Wolseley factory is going to be used only for War Office work or for civil aeroplanes, or whether it is to be used at all in the shadow scheme, or whether it is going to be thrown open for engine supply. I imagine it is not going to be brought into the shadow scheme, but that it will be available for the supply of engines if required. The noble Lord, Lord Nuffield, shakes his head. Do I understand that the factory erected by Lord Nuffield at a cost of £500,000, which can turn out aero-engines at the present time, is not going to be used at the present juncture for supplying aeroplane engines?


The tools will be used for other types of warplanes.


For aeroplanes? For civil aeroplanes?


It may be engines for tanks.


I am very much obliged to the noble Lord. I understand that his plant is going to be used; that it is not going to be wasted, so to speak, but is going to be used for the requirements of the War Office.


For the Army.


But not for Army aircraft. It is not going to be used for aircraft construction. That, I think, is a pity, if it is the case; I do not know. As I was saying, my noble friends and I have not had a chance of consulting on this White Paper or on the Minister's reply, but if it is a fact that this factory, which was erected for aircraft, is not going to be used, I think some further explanation is needed. That is the doubt that remains in my mind after such study as I could give. But I must repeat, speaking on behalf of my Party, that we do not want, if I may say so, to take sides in the controversy that has arisen. We believe that the parties concerned were acting in what they regarded as the best interests of the State, and that really is all we mind about. The majority of us know that a certain measure of rearmament is necessary, and we want it as quickly, as efficiently, and as cheaply as possible.


My Lords, all I want to say is that, as the White Paper was distributed amongst your Lordships only this morning, it seems to me rather premature to commence a debate upon any questions connected with the matters dealt with in that White Paper. There is, however, a very widespread feeling outside that this matter of securing assistance from Lord Nuffield's firm has somehow been mishandled. I only rise to make that point, but I hope that any general debate upon Defence will not be conducted in such a way that this issue of policy—the extent to which assistance might be given by private firms in carrying out the policy of the Government in reference to aeroplanes—will be omitted. I think there will be a desire in the House to deal with this particular issue. While I am not taking any sides, nor do I desire at the present moment to embarrass the Government in any way, I think that the matter ought to be discussed on its own merits quite apart from the general Defence matters which the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, has indicated that he is prepared to allow the House to discuss generally.


My Lords, I rise only to say how much I welcome the statement of my right honourable friend that there is to be a full debate almost immediately upon the whole range of rearmament questions. It would obviously be perfectly impossible for anyone, particularly a layman, in the short time which has intervened since we saw the White Paper, to have any appreciation of, still less to form a conclusion on, the merits of this unhappy difference of opinion that has occurred. It is not to enter upon that controversy, even for a moment, that I have risen to my feet. But in the weeks that have elapsed since we last met, and in many weeks and months before that, there has been a steady depreciation in the European situation. Week after week and month after month that situation becomes more acute and one to cause us all grave anxiety. I should like to assure His Majesty's Government that up and down the country to-day there is a growing anxiety as to the speed of the dispositions taken for our rearmament programme. I cannot form any conclusion on this particular controversy, but it does seem to some of us that, whatever its particular and specific merits, it has lifted a corner of a curtain that conceals something which, we fear, if it does not mean confusion, means great delay. My noble friend who has just sat down has sketched some of the areas in which those delays might lie. I think we could add to his list. I can only say that I hope that the debate may come forward as soon as possible and that ample time may be allowed for full development of the whole of the difficulties of a grave situation.


My Lords, the question before your Lordships' House has two aspects: the mechanical aspect and the administrative aspect. In view of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Nuffield, himself is not going to make a statement, some consideration of the mechanical aspect might not be out of place. I venture to say a few words upon it because there is hardly a day, either in Westmorland or in Malta, that I do not stand up to a lathe or other machine-tool in an experimental workshop as an intellectual antidote to politics. The material question is whether the policy adopted by the Government in the direction of standardising is going to be a wet blanket on inventiveness, on progress and on patriotic initiative, and whether, if the policy of the excessive cult of fleeting patterns is adopted and if too much importance is given to the jig, the sealed pattern will be lifted up to a point as a culture, leading to stagnation.

What will happen if and when war breaks out? The first thing that will happen will be that we shall realise that progress and invention have elsewhere been more rapid and that there are other machines, different from those we have adopted and far superior to them, that must at once be copied. These shadow factories will immediately diminish in importance, and their jigs and patterns will have got out of date. There is to be found a happy mean between the adoption of the principle of having special parts made exclusively in separate factories and the policy of giving too great a scope to any factory or organisation. Some factories should be given greater scope and latitude than others. That has not been done in the reception given to Lord Nuffield's patriotic offer.

There is a further aspect of the question, namely, that of administration. It is unfortunately the instinct in Government Departments not to welcome independent advice, especially when it comes from those who are better informed on technicalities and is over and above the standard of permanent officials who pass on the Departmental view to a Minister. Nobody can question the outstanding eminence of Lord Nuffield as an expert, and experience demonstrates the reluctance of the permanent officials to meet outside experts to discuss matters as to which they are insufficiently equipped. There is no doubt whatever that in many instances when certain eminence is achieved by captains of industry or finance the love of and desire to serve one's country grows far above other desires and becomes overpowering. That is what has prompted Lord Nuffield more than any other objective. There are others also desiring to assist progress in various departments, and the general tendency of the bureaucracy is not to welcome such assistance in the manner in which it ought to be welcomed. They should find time, and make no excuses.

I feel certain that what has happened in this controversy has been for the public good in mollifying the Departmental attitude, and that in future all Departmental chiefs and Ministers will be more ready to welcome technical advice and attractive offers from those who know best and are willing to give of their best in the spheres to which they have devoted their time.


My Lords, you will have listened with close attention to the statement which has been made by the noble Viscount, and will undoubtedly deplore the fact that it became necessary for one of this country's greatest industrialists to come forward and defend himself against an issue brought to the notice of the public by the Department of Government concerned. At a time when the affairs of Europe are in the melting-pot and when we should obviously be standing squarely together prepared to meet any emergencies, publicity of this nature could not have come at a more unfortunate moment. The fact that the matter has come to a head at this juncture is in itself greatly to be deplored. It raises, however, an issue of the most far-reaching importance, and however amicably the present situation may be resolved, there must remain in your Lordships' minds very grave misgivings.

That the country should have lost the advantage from an aircraft point of view of the organising and manufacturing ability and single-minded desire to help his country of the noble Lord, Lord Nuffield, is regrettable in the extreme, and appears to be the result of the policy which has clogged the efficiency of our aircraft design and production system for many years past. Those who realise the position to-day will sympathise with the Air Minister in that he inherited a system which has long proved an anachronism. In 1920 the Government of the day adopted, for reasons then sufficient, a policy involving the recognition of a limited number of aero-engine and air-frame manufacturers known as "approved firms." At the time this system was introduced it was fair that some security should be guaranteed for those constructors who were relied upon to provide manufacturing facilities and designing staff; but for some time past it has been obvious to many that this system has long out-lived its sphere of usefulness—a view which has become increasingly apparent since the policy of expansion was decided upon, While one may commiserate with the noble Viscount's position, it might have been expected that he would firmly grapple with the difficulties and co-ordinate the entire aircraft industry, and thus bring into the service of his country all its available resources.

Owing to the policy, restricted as it had been to a few firms long entrenched with a sense of security, that part of the industry was not ready with the types of aircraft required. Your Lordships will be amazed to learn that orders in large quanties were placed for the programme, not on proved performance but on the strength of designs still on the drawing board. This means that the elaborate testing system, through which all aircraft have normally to pass before being adopted as Service types, has been thrown over. Even at this stage few of the prototype machines have passed through the Air Ministry's special testing stations, and none, I believe, have actually been passed into the Service. Your Lordships will be aware that the aircraft engine and air-frame manufacturers are divided by the Air Ministry into two clearly defined groups: one is known as the "approved" firms and the other as the "unapproved" firms. The "approved" list was selected as far back as 1920, and was limited to a total of four engine and eighteen air-frame manufacturers, since reduced, by retirement from the industry and by amalgamations and mergers, to four engine and twelve air-frame manufacturers. All new-comers into the aircraft industry since that time are perforce relegated to the "unapproved" category. However meritorious may be the designing and manufacturing ability of the "unapproved" companies, there is no case on record since 1920 of one being promoted to the "approved" category, to fill the vacancies referred to.

The companies on the "approved" list have an agreement with the Air Ministry that all invitations to tender for designs of new types of engines and/or air-frames, and tenders and orders for production quantities, shall be confined by the Air Ministry to the "approved" companies alone. The "approved" companies may, with the sanction of the Air Ministry, place orders for the sub-contracting of parts with "unapproved" companies. That was the state of affairs in 1920. The "approved" firms wore eighteen air-frame manufacturers and four engine manufacturers, and allowing for retirements and amalgamations that position obtained up to the date of the adoption of the expansion policy. To-day, the "unapproved" firms, sixteen in number, represent a capital outlay of nearly £5,000,000. Had the Air Ministry encouraged these young and enterprising firms, who have proved themselves successful in designing and producing civil aircraft and engines for many years past, and given them equal advantages with those selected as far back as 1920, the competitive element would have produced in this country a field of choice equal, if not superior, to anything available elsewhere. The hazardous procedure adopted by the Air Ministry in its expansion programme must inevitably depend for its success on the building up of production based on machines which have not been thoroughly tried out. If satisfactory developments follow, it will only be due to the excellent design staffs our industry is fortunate enough to possess.

The present situation is without parallel in this country, as we see in existence an armament ring which, while it may have had some justification as far back as 1920, is not capable of coping with the expansion which has become imperative, and fails in the present emergency. It may indeed be said that the Government have cast away the substance for the shadow, for not only have these "unapproved" organisations the skilled men, but what is even more important is the fact that they have built up a complete system of management, as well as technical efficiency. The shadow programme is at the present moment one of bricks and mortar. Without the experience of administration, of economic management, supervisory capacity, and technical constructive ability, which in aircraft manufacture is a very specialised quantity, a scheme of quantitative production cannot be carried out efficiently.

I do not wish to encroach further on your Lordships' time, but let us not be misled. We have arrived at a point where old methods must give place to new requirements. We must call upon all resources and not remain satisfied with the output of a few selected firms. Undue prominence must not be given to any particular aspect of this situation. The justification or not of the shadow factory system, which relates mainly to aero-engine production, is not the main issue. What your Lordships must satisfy yourselves of is that all sides of aircraft production are developed in the most efficient way. It is not sufficient to produce good engines if air-frames and equipment are not of equal standard, or if their production is not organized on an equally effective basis. Let the Air Ministry, as a responsible department, decide in the first instance what their requirements are, then approach the best available market without fear of contravening any undertakings previously given. Your Lordships will be well aware that the present situation would be even worse had it not been for the fact that a member of your Lordships' House, who was himself responsible for the creation in days gone by of an effective regimentation of the aircraft industry, has recently given his undivided attention to an endeavour to straighten up the situation with which the nation is faced in this state of grave emergency. He has done this without regard to his personal and business convenience, seeking no personal advantage but acting only in the national interests.


My Lords, you need have no fear that I am going to trouble you with a long speech, but I do want to ask the Air Minister a question about the sectional method, which we learn all about in the White Paper. I will take the sectional method as the best, and it would obviously work, in peace, but what about war? We all know that the moment war broke out there would be a fleet of aeroplanes attacking this country, and in spite of all that our Air Service might do many of them, would get through. If by bad luck they managed to wreck or cripple one of these sections, it seems to me the result would paralyse every one of the others. They would still make their parts, but complete machines could not be turned out because there would be wanting the parts which ought to have come from the crippled section. On the other hand, of course, if complete aeroplanes are turned out, even if one establishment is wrecked the others can at least go on. I have less hesitation in asking the question because I think there was one sentence in the White Paper which showed that the Air Minister himself would have preferred a scheme under which complete machines were made.


My Lords, as this debate has turned largely on the question of the country's industrial capacity to produce, there are one or two points I should like to make. First of all, I think the House should be very grateful to the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken for asking the question that he did, and I hope that the noble Viscount will be able to give a reply. I think the country has been far more interested in, and far more alarmed by, that point—certainly people with industrial minds have been—than they have been by the unfortunate dispute that arose between the noble Lord, Lord Nuffield, and the Ministry. We can all be very glad that that dispute has been so easily and so satisfactorily settled, and we can leave it at that.

But the point raised by my noble friend opposite—namely, that the policy of his Party is the nationalisation of armament firms—is really one which it is so absurd to bring forward at the present moment that I can hardly believe that if he had the opportunity of putting it into operation he would dream of doing so. Every speech that has been made with industrial knowledge this afternoon has shown that this is a question of mobilising the total industrial resources of the country, and a few specialised manufacturing firms under Government Departments could not possibly hope to produce sufficiently rapidly, or with a sufficient variety of design. We have to bring in the whole industrial resources and the technical capacity of the country to supply our needs. The noble and learned Viscount who has just spoken has pointed out many of the difficulties with which the Air Ministry is now faced.

About two years ago the predecessor of the noble Viscount who speaks for the Air Ministry replied to a debate on air defence in this House. The debate, I think, lasted for about two hours, and no one referred to the question of making aeroplanes. I did intervene for one moment to ask the noble Marquess (Lord Londonderry) whether he thought the aeroplanes could be made, and in one word he replied that they could not. That was the real position of the question of defence, and this trouble which has been referred to to-day is not one confined to the question of the air; it is going to be found in production in many other places. And while we are discussing this question I think we ought to ask the Government whether they will not have to appoint a Minister of Munitions to organise an industrial supply of munitions for this country. It is not only a question of shells, it is the total effort that is necessary to re-equip this country in the air, on the sea, and on the land.


My Lords, I rise really in order to give one or two assurances. The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, said that he hoped that in a broad debate the questions of policy raised in the White Paper would not be excluded. Of course they will not. The policy we have adopted with regard to the construction of aeroplanes is, after all, only one section of the whole policy in relation to supply, which covers not only one but three Services, and I thought it would be for the convenience of your Lordships that these great and important questions should be taken in one comprehensive debate. Of course I was not suggesting for a moment that any section of that important question should be excluded.

I would like here and now to answer specifically the point made by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dunedin. I think it is one of real importance, and those of your Lordships who have read the White Paper will have seen that when I put the proposition to the great motor firms who were invited to help us in this matter I said quite frankly that, purely from an Air Ministry point of view, I would prefer that each firm should make a complete aero-engine. I put it to those firms that two things were wanted. First of all, we wanted a certain number of engines of the approved type, as nearly as possible within a given time; and in the second place we wanted those firms to get as much knowledge and experience as possible for the turnover which they would have to undertake when they were allocated to the production of aero-engines in the event of war. It was their considered opinion that in the present circumstances—I have quoted in the White Paper the words of their own report—the only safe and practical way of doing the thing was to sectionalise it into a number of different sections, with two testing and assembly plants. They laid great stress on the fact that if, in the present state of demands on the engineering industry, you put the plants of each of these firms on to the production of jigs, tools and so on for every single part of the engine, you would get a delay which would prejudice the success of the plan.

Your Lordships will see that as a matter of fact I put that proposition to these firms not once but indeed at a succession of meetings, for, as I say, I would rather have had each firm making a complete engine. As regards the educative point of view, they said: "Well, we are working this as a team. We shall all get experience out of it." But I want to make this plain, as I made it quite plain to the firms. I said: "I think we are bound to accept your considered view of what is the most practical way of doing this job," because after all they were going to accept the responsibility and their views as industrialists were worth a great deal more than mine. I was not venturing to put a view of what was industrially a good proposition; I was putting the security proposition. But I made it quite plain that I should not be prepared to accept as a war plan a single chain of seven links, and that when we were turning over, as the great factories will turn over if that unhappy event should ever come, to war production, I thought it would be quite essential to have—I do not say every single firm making a complete engine but at any rate several chains of production. I am very glad the noble and learned Viscount raised that point.

I am sure your Lordships would not wish me in this debate to enter into the very difficult question of a Ministry of Supply. I would only say three things. First of all, the Government have an entirely unprejudiced mind in this matter. If we felt that a Ministry of Supply was the right thing we should not hesitate to invite Parliament to give us authority to establish one. In the second place, the difficulty to-day is not the difficulty, which the noble Lord put, of a conflict between the three Services in their requirements. As a matter of fact we can co-ordinate our requirements—and do, I think, co-ordinate our requirements—very well, and a great deal of work has been done for the co-ordination not only of the firms we use in peace time but, as is apparent from the White Paper, of all the great work which the Committee of Imperial Defence has done in reviewing the civil firms of the country and seeing the kind of work that these firms should be allocated in time of war.

What I think—and I think any industrialist in this House will agree—is the real difficulty to-day is skilled labour. Great firms—I am sure Lord Nuffield would confirm this as far as his works are concerned, and it is true of other works I have visited—are doing an enormous amount to-day in the way of taking in apprentices. They are doing admirable work, but the real difficulty to-day—and perhaps it will be more acutely felt in the future—when you have tremendous expansion of civil industry going on which it is very undesirable to stop if you can possibly help it, is skilled labour. After all, why is this country so sound to-day, really, indeed, so prosperous? It is because we have been able to do this while a great expansion is going on in civil industry. It is most desirable not to interfere with that if you can help it. This is the problem we have got to face: Is there going to be enough skilled labour for all the demands, civil and military, that are going to be made upon it?

Ingenious engineers like Lord Nuffield and others—I think Lord Austin would agree—are always turning their minds to what I may call de-skilling the job; to the great importance of using skilled labour to the best advantage and making use of every mechanical device; but our real problem is whether there is going to be enough skilled labour for all the work that is required. That is the problem to which, when we come to the other debate, I would like the noble Lord to turn his attention. He will not solve that problem by putting up one Supply Department instead of three. It is really a problem as to whether you should divert labour from one form of occupation to another. I am not going to debate that further to-night, but I throw that out because I believe it is the core of the problem. Merely to suggest three Supply Departments merged under one roof is not an answer to that. The problem goes much deeper and concerns whether you are going to concentrate the skilled labour which is available into particular channels.


The noble Viscount has a little misunderstood my point. My argument for a Minister of Supply at the present juncture is not simply to merge three Supply Departments or three Contract Departments, but to give him power to allocate steel and materials of that kind.


Quite honestly, we have no difficulty of that kind. I know of no Department that is finding that kind of difficulty. We have, I think, a perfectly adequate machinery, and if we find a conflict between one Service contract and another, it is quite easily settled which receives its supply first. That is really not the core of the problem. The core of the problem is the one I have stated. The noble Lord put some questions about how Lord Nuffield's great services could be best utilised. I would only say this: I can give the House a very firm assurance that Lord Nuffield's great personal capacity, and the great organisation which he has created, will be used to great advantage in the service of the State. After all, the programme which we have to carry out in Defence covers not one but three Services. It includes great and urgent needs, and I certainly can give the House the assurance—your Lordships would not ask me to do more or to detail any plans at this stage—that Lord Nuffield's services will be used as freely as he is prepared to give them.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will agree that the purpose I had in putting the Question on the Order Paper has been served by the discussion which has taken place. It was not to intensify any misunderstanding that might exist or to complicate what is already a sufficiently difficult problem. It would serve no useful purpose to discuss the reply of the Secretary of State to-night, but as soon as is convenient, in the early days of the next Session, my noble friends will initiate a discussion covering the whole question of Defence and national policy in relation to Defence. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at seventeen minutes past five o'clock.